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Everyone once in a while I get an e-mail from one of the far corners of the Internet - assuming it has corners - asking about the once popular Maine song about some fella riding down from Bangor on a passenger train. This time it came from Barbara in Columbus, Ohio. Thanks for the e-mail, Barbara. “Riding Down From Bangor” written by Louis Shreve Osborne, goes like this:

Riding down from Bangor, on an eastern train
After weeks of hunting, in the woods of Maine
Quite extensive whiskers, beard, mustache as well
Sat a student fellow, tall and slim and swell

Empty seat behind him, no one at his side
Into quiet village, eastern train did glide
Enter aged couple, take the hindmost seat
Enter village maiden, beautiful, petite

Blushingly she faltered, “Is this seat engaged?”
Sees the aged couple, properly enraged
Student's quite ecstatic, sees her ticket through
Thinks of the long tunnel, thinks of what he will do

Pleasantly they chatted, how the cinders fly
Til the student fellow, gets one in his eye
Maiden sympathetic, turns herself about
“May I if you please sir, try to get it out?”

Then the student fellow, feels a gentle touch
Hears a gentle murmur, “Does it hurt you much?”
Whiz! Slap! Bang! Into the tunnel quite
Into glorious darkness, black as Egypt's night

Out into the daylight glides that eastern train
Student's hair is ruffled, just the merest grain
Maiden seen all blushes when then and there appeared
A tiny little earring, in that horrid student's beard.

OK, so maybe ol' Louis Shreve Osborne was no Robert Frost and "Riding Down From Bangor" will not vie with "The Road Not Taken" for a spot in any future anthologies of American poetry but his words were apparently good enough to be included among "The Best Loved Poems of the American People," which is more than a lot of poets alive today can say.
You don't have to read Louis' poem too closely to conclude that things - even things here in Maine - have changed just a tad since the 1930s.
Here in 2006, you know for sure that a train like that would be filled with packs of hungry passing out their cards to everyone who got one of those cinders in the eye. In today's legal circles each cinder would no doubt be worth a few hundred thousand dollars when presented properly to a jury of our peers.
If there were cinders flying around there must have been sparks and horrendous clouds of black smoke, so the EPA and the Forest Service would be on the case for sure. That alone would provide enough legal hassles to keep a few dozen lawyers busy for eight to ten years.
And if - as the lyrics imply - the men on those 1930s trains were making passes at the women passengers every time those belching trains went into a dark tunnel, well, as innocent as it may sound in Louis' naive poem, we'd probably be looking at a few dozen harassment suits per trip, don't you think?
Does make you wonder why anyone would be so irresponsible as to encourage passenger trains here in Maine.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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